Anyone interested in Hajj or Umrah over the past few years could not have failed to notice the spiralling package prices which for most people means careful saving for several years. Indeed, for many, the cost involved means the journey of a lifetime still remains out of reach. If we look at the last few years, the average package price gives a good indication of how steep these rises are. In 2014, less than a quarter (23%) of Hajj packages cost over £5,000 (and 50% were below £4,000).By 2018, it had changed to more than 70% of Hajj packages costing over £5,000.
This trend has been continuing for years. There are a lot of opinions about the causes, some even citing fraud. However, from some of the studies that have been conducted, the following factors have been noted
- Fluctuation of exchange rate – the Saudi Riyal has risen in value from 6 to 5/4.5 for every UK £ which would of course increase prices
- Introduction of Municipal Tax – in 2018 by the Saudi government at a rate of 5%(1)
- Increase of prices of the mutawaif system (transport and tents), again by the Saudi government, from £50 per pilgrim to around £700/pilgrim
- Flights – have risen to £1400 from the UK to Saudi Arabia during this time.
- Hotel licencing – by the Saudi authorities such as awarding the 5-star clock tower which is 90% owned by Accor hotels.
- ‘Saudisation’ of workforce – For example charges by the Saudi government for a non-Saudi Hajj tour guide/staff is a £400 fee for repeating Hajj in 5 years.
It’s also possible that travel agents are benefiting from the price increases. Pocketing the increase and capitalising on the ability of those willing to pay, at the expense of those who can not.
There are several policy issues that could be be driving this trend:
– nationalistic policies in contravention of the divine Shariah, e.g. rules on Hajj visas based on nationality and citizenship and hence discrimination based upon country of origin.
– rules favouring commercial interest and not the Ummah’s, Granting hotel planning/licencing based upon the highest bidders ( Accor group) rather than based upon affordability for the pilgrims.
– increase of charge for the Mutawa system. This is likely done by the Saudi government to generate more income. This is due to mismanagement of the political system and waste of state revenue on the Royal family
– introduction of taxes contradicting the Shariah – sales tax (e.g. the municipal tax) prohibited by all schools of thought and prohibited by Shariah as Islam limits taxes to Kharaj, Ushr, Jizya, Khums etc. Imam Nawawi said: “One of the things most sternly prohibited and needful to warn people against is what the common people say about sales tax and the like namely that “this is the ruler’s right…This is one of the most objectionable practices and ugliest of reprehensible innovations.”
Some publications have asserted that Saudi Arabia is eyeing up Hajj as a replacement to oil revenue (or at least one that supplements it heavily) as if it is some type of money-making enterprise, along with Mohammed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 initiative .
Gone are the days when the Muslim government was united under one leader, without borders. The khulafa (caliphs) of that time, such as in the time of the Abbasids and Ottomans and under the Mamluk sultans, viewed Hajj as a duty and honour, not a way of filling the coffers. During that time the ‘Amir of Hajj’ was a respected office run by the khalifah utilising state money and waqf endowments to make Hajj safe and easy to afford (in the context of the time): “The funds mostly came from province revenues specifically designated for the Hajj. Some funds came from large endowments established by various Mamluk and Ottoman sultans that were mainly meant to ensure the availability of water and supplies in the cities of Mecca and Medina to accommodate incoming pilgrims.”
The caliphs, sultans and walis in the past went to great pains for the sake of the pilgrims. Caliph Abdulhamid II built the Hejaz Railway which provided a modern means to transport pilgrims to Mecca and Medina by replacing camel caravans. The railway changed transport for pilgrims going to Hajj (previously performed via camels or by foot).When Salahudin was the ruler over the muslims he removed illegal taxes (imposed earlier by the non-muslims such as the Fatimids) which was praised by Ibn Jubayr. Later Mamluk sultans, like Baybers and Hassan, made positive steps in preventing local Makkan rulers from taxing the caravans, by compensating them, all in an effort to reduce the burden upon the pilgrim. All these examples are a far cry from today’s secular and monarchical leaders.
Not only has the institution of the Amir of Hajj under a universal caliphate been abandoned in its correct form, but nationalism has had a detrimental effect on the masses looking to fulfil their lifelong dream and duty of performing the Hajj.
It is important to note that the unaffordability of Hajj is just another problem directly attributable to the lack of a unified Islamic system (khilafah) that implements the Shariah comprehensively. It is time that we end this ‘nation state’ behaviour and move towards applying Islam pragmatically by calling for a radical change of the current system.
 The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law ‘Umdat alSalik by Ahmad ibn Naqib af-Misri, section R12.1